One of the craft beer industry’s defining moments is now encapsulated in a work of true journalistic effort with the book Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out.
Chicago Tribune writer Josh Noel releases Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out on June 1, fully chronicling the sale of the Windy City’s beloved Goose Island Beer Company to Anheuser-Busch, and its effects on the beer industry as a whole, while also telling much of the history of the rise of the craft beer movement.
Noel spent more than seven years on the project, conducting more than 100 interviews, creating an incredibly detailed, intricately woven story few readers, beer fan or not, will want to put down. Craft beer has passionate fans and until now, most books on the subject have been told through that light. While Noel is a fan of beer, his journalistic integrity shines through in this endeavor.
“I just felt beer was ready for a journalistic effort in a book-length project,” Noel said. “There’s a lot of great reporting at the magazine and newspaper level. There are a couple industry histories, but nothing that I felt brought that sort of journalistic intensity to the rise of craft beer.
“I felt Anheuser Busch’s entry into craft beer deserved a rigorous effort.”
The $38.8 million sale of Goose Island occurred in 2011, so in 2012 with the book in mind, Noel contacted the founder of Goose Island, John Hall, and asked if he, too, thought there was a book in the story.
“If he didn’t say yes, it might not have happened,” Noel said.
Instead, Hall didn’t hesitate.
Throughout Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, Noel tells the story of John Hall and his son, Greg, both integral to the tale of how Goose Island became a craft beer powerhouse, the sale and the following seven-year roller coaster. But beyond the Halls, the beer world took Noel for a wild journey as AB InBev went on a buying spree, as did MillerCoors, Heineken, and Constellation Brands. The number of breweries in the U.S. also drastically increased, 2,475 in 2012 to 6,372 in 2017.
Big beer buying smaller breweries also saw a valuation peak in 2015, when Constellation Brands paid $1 billion for San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing.
“I started not that long after the Goose sale not knowing exactly what the book would be,” he said. “I thought the book might end with the Goose sale. But that was the midway point. Lucky for me there was a whole bunch of wild stuff, something remarkable had just begun.”
In the ensuing years, AB bought New York’s Bluepoint Brewery, Washington’s Elysian Brewing, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing, California’s Golden Road Brewing, Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewing, Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing, Virginia’s Devils Backbone Brewing, Texas’ Karbach Brewing, and North Carolina’s Wicked Weed.
Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out takes a look at all of these acquisitions and dissects the learning curve AB InBev took in how to operate in the craft space and a captivating look at the behind-the-scenes workings of big beer.
Surprisingly, Noel received a remarkable amount of cooperation from AB InBev representatives.
“They were very open when it comes to the message they want to share,” Noel said. They were willing to put me in touch with virtually anyone from AB or the High End [the crafty branch of the corporation] with one notable exception, the M&A guy.”
That guy, Michael Taylor, was off the radar until very recently. He was the point of contact as AB InBev was out scouting for potential acquisitions. Noel said he’s not surprised they wouldn’t want to divulge the “mechanics and nuances of how a $250 billion company gobbles up 10 small breweries.”
Noel knew he had a story on his hands. How good it wound up being was a pleasant surprise to him and now as passionate craft beer fans continue to stoke the anti-big beer fire and the Brewers Association doubles down on their Independence Matters campaign, Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out couldn’t come at a better time.
“The intensity of the reaction is the story to tell,” Noel said. “That people care so much. People don’t care this much about toothbrushes and washing machines. It’s one of the most intimate consumer relationships out there.”